Today is Laetare Sunday, named, of course, for the first words of the Introit of the Mass for this day. This Sunday is one of muted rejoicing in the midst of the penitential season of Lent; festive rose vestments can be worn, the organ can be more freely used, and several other disciplines are relaxed on this Sunday that falls just beyond the mid-point of Lent. We are more than half-way to Easter from our start on Ash Wednesday! Rejoice!
Read more about Laetare Sunday here:
Old Catholic Encyclopedia: Laetare Sunday
Fisheaters: Laetare Sunday
St. Robert Bellarmine, S.J. (+1621), Jesuit, Cardinal, and Doctor of the Church, wrote Ars bene moriendi, the Art of Dying Well, in 1619AD. Today I continue my presentation of this work, as I plan each Sunday, which now brings us to Chapter 16, on the Sacrament of Extreme Unction, or Last Rites. While one would expect a brief account here, St. Robert magnificently describes the role of the five senses in the moral life -- recalling the anointing of the Sacrament that symbolizing the purifications of those senses. Excellent, and challenging, advice is contained in this final installment of mine.
St. Robert Bellarmine (+1621AD)
CHAPTER XVI. THE SIXTEENTH PRECEPT, ON THE SACRAMENT OF EXTREME UNCTION
THERE now remains the last sacrament to speak of, Extreme Unction; from this may be derived most useful lessons, not only for our last hour, but for the whole course of our life For in this Sacrament are anointed all those parts of the body in which the five senses reside, and in the anointing of each of them it is said: "May our Lord forgive thee whatever thou mayest have committed by thy sight, hearing, &c." Hence we see, that these senses are as it were five gates, through which all kinds of sin can enter into the soul. If then we carefully guard these gates, we shall easily avoid a multitude of sins, and therefore shall be enabled to live well and die well.
We will now speak briefly on guarding these five gates. That the eye is a gate through which enter sins against chastity, our Saviour teaches us when He says: "But I say to you, that whosoever shall look upon a woman to lust after her, hath already committed adultery with her in his heart. And if thy right eye scandalize thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee. For it is expedient for thee that one of thy members should perish, rather than that thy whole body go into hell." (St. Matthew v. 28.) We know that the old men who saw Susanna naked, were immediately inflamed with evil desires of lust, and in consequence suffered a miserable death. We know also how David, the particular friend of God, from merely seeing Bethsabee washing herself, fell into adultery, and from that into murder, and innumerable other evils.
Reason itself convinces us of this truth; for the beauty of a woman compels, in a manner, a man to love her; and the beauty of a man compels the woman: nor does this love rest till it ends in carnal embraces, on account of the concupiscence derived to us from original sin. This evil the holy apostle Paul deplores, where he says: "But I see another law in my members fighting against the law of my mind, and captivating me in the law of sin, that is in my members. Unhappy man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death ? The grace of God by Jesus Christ our Lord." (Epist. To Romans, vii. 23.)
What remedy is there against so grievous a temptation? The remedy is quick and easy with the assistance of God, if we wish to make use of it. St. Augustine mentions a remedy in his 109th Epistle, which contains rules for monks; the holy father thus speaks: " If you cast your eyes upon any one, fix them upon no one." A simple glance of the eyes is almost impossible to be avoided; but it cannot strike the heart, except it be continued upon the object. Wherefore, if we do not designedly accustom ourselves to look upon a beautiful woman, and should by chance cast our eyes upon one, and then quickly turn them aside, there will be no danger to us; for truly does St. Augustine remark, that not in the glance, but in the dwelling upon the object, is the danger. Hence holy Job says: "I made a covenant with my eyes, that I would not so much as think upon a virgin." (chap, xxxi.) He does not say, " I have made a covenant" not to look, but " not so much as to think" upon a virgin: this means, I will not look too long upon a virgin, lest the sight should penetrate my heart, and I should begin to think of her beauty, and gradually to desire to speak with her, and then embrace her. He then gives the best reason a most holy man could give: "For what part would God from above have in me?" As if he intended to say: God is my chief Happiness and my Inheritance, my greatest good, than whom nothing more excellent can be imagined: but God loves only the chaste and just. To the same purpose are the words of our Lord: " If thy eye scandalize thee, pluck it out;" that is, so use it as if you did not possess it; and so accustom your eyes to refrain from sinful objects, as if you were blind. Now they who from their youth are careful in this respect, will not find much difficulty in avoiding other vices: but they who are not so careful, will find a difficulty; though by the grace of God, they can be enabled to change their life, and to avoid this most dangerous snare.
But some one may perhaps reply: Why did God create such beautiful men and women, if He did not wish us to look at them, and admire them? The answer is easy and two-fold. God created male and female for marriage; for thus He spoke in the beginning: "It is not good for man to be alone: let us make him a help like unto himself." Man does not require the aid of the woman, except in bringing forth and educating children, as we have already proved from St. Augustine. But man and wife would not easily agree, nor willingly live together their life-time, unless beauty had a share in producing love. Since, therefore, the woman was made beautiful that she might be loved by her husband, she cannot be loved by another with a carnal love; wherefore it is said in the law: " Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife;" and to husbands the apostle speaks: "Husbands love your wives."
There are many good and beautiful things, which ought not to be desired but by those only with whom they agree. The use of meat and wine is good for those in health, but not always to those who are ill. So in the same manner after the resurrection, the beauty of men and women may be safely loved by all of us, for then we shall not possess the carnal concupiscence under which we now groan. Wherefore we must not be surprised in being permitted to admire the beauty of the sun, and moo, and stars, and flowers, which do not nourish concupiscence; and in not being allowed to gaze with pleasure on beautiful men and women, because the sight might perhaps increase or nourish carnal concupiscence.
After the sense of sight comes that of hearing, which ought to be no less diligently guarded than the former. But with the ears the "tongue" must be joined, which is the instrument of speech: for words, whether good or bad, are not heard except when pronounced first by the tongue. And as the tongue, unless most carefully guarded, is the cause of many evils, therefore does St. James say: " He that offends not in word, the same is a perfect man: " and a little further: " Behold how small a fire what a great wood it kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity." (chap. iii. 5.)
In this passage the Apostle teaches us three things. First, that to guard the tongue carefully is a most difficult thing; and therefore that there are few, and those only perfect men, who know effectually how to do this. Secondly, that from an evil tongue, the greatest injuries and mischief may arise in a very short time. This is explained by a comparison taken from a spark, which unless immediately extinguished, can consume a whole forest. Thus, one word incautiously spoken, may excite suspicions of another s guilt, from which quarrels, contentions, strifes, homicides, and the ruin of a whole family may arise. St. James, in fine, teaches that an evil tongue is not merely an evil thing in itself alone, but that it includes a multitude of evils; therefore he calls it a “world of iniquity."
For by its means, nearly all crimes are either devised, as adulteries and thefts; or perpetrated, as perjuries and false testimonies; or defended, as when the impious excuse the evil they have committed, or pretend to have done the good they did not.
And again, the evil tongue may justly be called "a world of iniquity," because by the tongue man sins against God by blasphemy or perjury; against his neighbour by detraction and back-biting; and against himself, by boasting of good works which he has not done in reality; and by asserting that he did not do the evil things which he did. In addition to the testimony of St. James, I will add that of the prophet David: " Lord, deliver my soul from wicked lips, and a deceitful tongue." (Psalm cxix.)
If this holy king was fearful of a wicked and deceitful tongue, what ought private individuals to do; and much more, if they are not only private, but poor, weak, and obscure ? The prophet adds: "What shall be given to thee, or what shall be added to thee, to a deceitful tongue?" The words are obscure on account of the peculiarity of the Hebrew structure; but the sense appears to be this: Not without cause do I fear a wicked and deceitful tongue, because it is such a great evil that no other can be added to it. The prophet proceeds: “The sharp arrows of the mighty, with coals that lay waste." In these words, by an elegant comparison, he declares how great an evil a deceitful tongue is; for the prophet compares it to a fiery arrow shot by a strong hand. Arrows strike at a distance, and with such quickness, that they can scarcely be avoided. Then arrows to which the deceitful tongue is compared, are said to be sent forth by a strong hand. Thirdly, it is added, that these arrows are sharp, that is, they are well polished and sharpened by a skilful workman. In fine, it is said, that they are like unto desolating coals, that is, fiery, so that they can " lay waste " any thing, however strong and hard: hence, a wicked and deceitful tongue is not so much like unto the arrows of men, as to the arrows of heaven .lightning, which nothing can resist. This description of the prophet, of a wicked and deceitful tongue, is such, that no evil can be imagined greater.
But that the truth may be more clearly understood, I will mention two examples from Scripture. The first, that of the wicked Doëg the Idumean, who accused the priest Achimelech to king Saul, of having conspired with David against him: this was a downright calumny and imposture. But because Saul, at that time, was not well disposed towards David, he easily believed everything, and ordered that not only the priest Achimelech should be killed immediately, but all the other priests, in number about eighty-five, who had not committed the least offence against the king. But Saul, not content with this slaughter, ordered those to be slain also who dwelt in the city nobe; and not only did his cruelty extend to men and women, but even to children, and infants, and animals. Of this wicked and deceitful tongue of Doëg, it is probable that David spoke in the psalm mentioned above, part of which I explained. From this example we may learn, how productive of evil is a deceitful and wicked tongue.
The other example I will take from the gospel of St. Mark: When the daughter of Herodias danced before Herod the Tetrarch and his courtiers, she gained his favour to such a degree that he swore before all the company, he would give the girl whatever she asked, though it were half his kingdom. But the daughter first asked her mother Herodias what she should demand; she told her to ask for the head of St. John the Baptist. This was demanded, and soon was the head of the Baptist brought in on a dish. What crimes were there here! The mother sinned most grievously, in requesting a most unjust thing; Herod sinned no less grievously, by ordering a most innocent man to be killed, who was the precursor of our Lord and "more than a prophet," than whom no greater had arisen among those born of women: and without his cause being heard, without judgment, at the time of a solemn banquet, the demand of the girl was granted! But let us hear the punishment, as we have seen the evils of the crime. Herod being a short time after deprived of his government by the emperor Gains, was sent into perpetual banishment. Thus he who swore that he would give away half of his kingdom, exchanged that kingdom for perpetual exile, as Josephus mentions in his "Antiquities." The daughter of Herodias, whose dancing was the cause of St. John s death, crossing some ice, it broke under her and she fell in with her whole body except her head, which being cut from the body, rolled about on the ice; thus all might see what was the cause of her miserable death. In fine, Herodias herself soon died broken-hearted, and followed her daughter to the torments of hell. Nicephorus Callistus relates this tragedy in his History. Behold, what crimes and what punishment followed the rash and foolish oath taken by Herod the Tetrarch.
We will now mention the remedies which prudent men are accustomed to use against sins of the tongue. The holy prophet David, in the beginning of the xxxviii. Psalm, speaks of the remedy he used; “I said: I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue." This means, that I may guard against sins of the tongue, I will carefully mind my ways; for I will neither speak, nor think, nor do anything, unless I first examine and weigh what I am about to do or speak.
These are the paths by which men walk in this life. Wherefore the remedy against evil words, and not only against these, but against deeds also, and thoughts, and desires, is to think beforehand on what we are about to do, or speak, or desire. And this is the character of men, not to do anything rashly, but to consider what is to be done; and if it agree with sound reason, to do it; but if not, not to do it. And what we say of actions, may be applied to speech, desires, and other works of a rational being. But if all cannot consider beforehand on what they are about to do or speak, certainly there can be no prudent man, desirous of his eternal salvation, who will not every morning of each day, before he commences his business, approach to God in prayer, and beg of Him to direct his ways, his actions, his words, desires, and thoughts, to the greater glory of God, and the salvation of his own soul. Then, at the close of the day, before he lies down to sleep, he should examine his conscience and ask himself, whether he has offended God in thought, word, or deed; and if he shall find that he has committed any sin, especially a mortal one, let him not dare to close his eyes in sleep, before he first reconcile himself to God by true repentance, and make a firm resolution so to guard his ways, as not to offend in word, or deed, or desire.
With regard to the sense of “hearing," a few remarks must be made. When the tongue is restrained by reason from uttering evil words, nothing can injure the sense of hearing. There are four kinds of words, against which in particular the sense of hearing must be closed, lest through it evil words should enter the heart and corrupt it.
The first are words against Faith, which human curiosity often listens to with pleasure: and yet if these penetrate the heart, they deprive it of Faith, which is the root and beginning of all good. Now no words of infidels are more pernicious than those which deny, either the providence of God, or the immortality of the soul: for such assertions make men not merely heretics, but atheists, and thus open the door to all kinds of wickedness. Another class of evil words regards detraction, which is eagerly listened to, but which destroys fraternal charity. Holy David, who was a man according to God’s own heart, says in the Psalms: " Instead of making me a return of love, they detracted me: but I gave myself to prayer." And since detraction is often heard at table, St. Augustine placed these verses over his dining-table:
"Quisquis amat dictis absentftm rodero vitam,
Hanc mensam iiidignam noverit esse sibi."
“This board allows no vile detractor place,
Whose tongue doth love the absent to disgrace."
The third species of evil words consists in flattery, which is willingly heard by men; and yet it produces pride and vanity, the former of which is the queen of vices, and is most hateful to God. A fourth kind consists in using immodest and amatory words in lascivious songs: to the lovers of this world nothing is sweeter, though nothing can be more dangerous than such words and songs. Lascivious songs are the songs of sirens’, who enchant men, and then plunge them into the sea and devour them.
Against all these dangers there is a salutary remedy, to keep with good company, but most carefully to avoid evil company. Men, when in the presence of those whom they have either not seen before, or with whom they are not familiar, have not the boldness to detract their neighbour, or to make use of heretical, or flattering, or lascivious expressions. Wherefore Solomon, in the beginning of Proverbs, thus expresses his first precept: "My son, hear the instructions of thy father, &c “My son, if sinners shall entice thee, consent not to them. If they shall say: Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood, let us hide snares for the innocent without cause: let us swallow him up alive like hell, and whole as one that goeth down into the pit. We shall find all precious substance, and shall fill our houses with spoils. Cast in thy lot with us, let us all have one purse. My son, walk not thou with them, restrain thy foot from their paths. For their feet run to evil, and make haste to shed blood. And they themselves lie in wait for their own blood, and practise deceits against their own souls. (chap. i. 10, &c.) This advice of a most wise man, affords an easy remedy, to keep the sense of hearing from being corrupted by evil words; especially if we add the words of our Lord, who has said: “A man’s enemies shall be they of his own household."
The third sense is our smell, of which nothing can be said, for it relates to odours that possess little power in corrupting the soul; and the odours of flowers are harmless.
I come therefore to the fourth sense, the sense of taste. The sins that enter the soul and corrupt it by this gate, are two fold, gluttony and drunkenness; from these many other sins follow. Against these vices we have the admonition of our Lord in St. Luke: " Take heed to yourselves, lest perhaps your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness, etc." Another admonition is given by St. Paul, in his Epistle to the Romans: " Let us walk honestly as in the day: not in rioting and drunkenness." These two sins are numbered in the Holy Scriptures with other grievous crimes, as St. Paul mentions: “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are, fornication, uncleanness, immodesty, luxury, idolatry, witchcrafts, enmities, contentions, emulations, wraths, quarrels, dissensions, sects, envies, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like. Of the which I foretell you, as I have foretold to you, that they who do such things shall not obtain the kingdom of God."
(Manifesta autem sunt opera carnis quae sunt fornicatio inmunditia luxuria, idolorum servitus veneficia inimicitiae contentiones
aemulationes irae rixae dissensiones sectae, Invidiae homicidia ebrietates comesationes et his similia quae praedico vobis sicut
praedixi quoniam qui talia agunt regnum Dei non consequentur) (Epistle to .Galatians, v. 19, 20 &21)
But this is not the only punishment of such sins: for they also deaden the soul, so as to make it totally unfit for the contemplation of heavenly things. This our Saviour teaches us; and St. Basil in his sermon on " Fasting," illustrates it by two very apt comparisons. The first is taken from the sun and from vapours: "As those thick vapours which rise from damp and wet places, cover the heavens with clouds and prevent the rays of the sun from reaching us; so also from surfeiting and drunkenness, smoke and vapour as it were rise within us, that obscure our reason, and deprive us of the rays of divine light." The other comparison is taken from smoke and bees. "As bees are expelled from their hives by smoke, so also the wisdom of God is expelled by revellings and drunkenness; and this wisdom is, as it were, like a bee in our soul, producing the honey of virtue, of grace, and every heavenly consolation." Moreover, drunkenness injures the health of the body also. A doctor named Antiphanes, most skillful in his profession, asserted, as Clement of Alexandria informs us in the second book of his "Pædagogus," that almost the only cause of every disease was, too much food and drink. On the other hand, St. Basil tells us, that he thought "Abstinence" might be called the parent of health. And indeed physicians in general, in order to restore health to a diseased body, always order their patient to abstain from meat and wine. Again drunkenness and revellings not only injure the health of the soul and body, but also our domestic interests: how many from being rich have become poor; how many from masters have become servants, and all by drunkenness! This vice also deprives many poor people of the alms of the rich; for they who are not content with moderate meat and drink, easily spend their whole substance upon their own pleasures, so that nothing remains for their needy brethren: thus are the words of the Apostle fulfilled: "And one indeed is hungry, and another is drunk."
We will now mention some remedies. The example of the saints may serve as one remedy against these sins. I omit the hermits and monks whom St. Jerome mentions in his Epistle (De Custodiâ Virginitatis) to Eustochius; he tells her, that amongst them anything "cooked" was a luxury. I will not dwell on St. Ambrose, who, as Paulinus mentions in his life, fasted every day except Sundays and solemn festivals. I will not speak of St. Augustine, who, as Possidius testifies, used only herbs and legumes at his table, and had meat only for strangers and guests. But if we attentively consider how the Lord of all things was Himself in want, when in the desert he undertook to feed the multitude, we shall doubtless soon acquire "Sobriety." God, who alone is powerful, alone wise, alone bountiful, and who could and who wished to provide in the best manner possible for His beloved people, for forty years rained down upon them only Manna, and gave them water from a rock. Manna was food not much differing from flour mixed with honey, as we are told in the book of Exodus. Behold how moderately our most wise God fed and nourished His people; their food, cake; their drink, water; and yet all continued to enjoy good health, until they began to long after flesh. Christ Jesus, the Son of God, after the example of His Father, “in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,” when He feasted so many thousands of the people, placed before them only a few loaves and fishes, and water for drink. And not only when our Saviour was yet in the world, did He give His hearers such a repast, but after His resurrection also, when " all power had been given unto Him in heaven and on earth," meeting His disciples on the seashore, He feasted them on bread and fish alone, and this very frugally. O how different are the ways of God from the ways of men! The King of heaven and earth rejoices in simplicity and sobriety, and is chiefly solicitous to fill, enrich, and exhilarate the soul. But men prefer listening to their concupiscence and their enemy the devil before God. Thus we may say with the Apostle, that the god of carnal men is "their belly." The sense of " touch" comes next, which of all the senses is the most lively and fleshy, by which many sins enter to defile our own soul as well as the souls of others; such as the works of the flesh, which St. Paul enumerates when he says: " Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are fornication, uncleanness, immodesty," &c. By these three words the Apostle includes all kinds of impurities. Nor is there any necessity to dwell more at length on these sins, which the faithful ought rather to be ignorant of, and the names of which ought never to be heard amongst them. Thus does St. Paul speak in his Epistle to the Ephesians: "But fornication and all uncleanness, let it not be so much as named amongst you as becometh saints” Against all these crimes the following seem to me to be the remedies, and they are such as physicians use to cure the sick. First, they begin with fasting or abstinence, they forbid the patients meat and wine. So must every one do the same who is given to luxury, he must abstain from eating and drinking too much.
This the Apostle prescribes to Timothy: “Use a little wine for thy stomachs sake, and thy frequent infirmities.” (1st to Timothy 23.) That is, use wine on the account of the weakness of your stomach, but only moderately to avoid drunkenness, for in much wine is luxury. Again, physicians give bitter medicine, bleed the body, make incisions, and do other things painful to nature. So did the saints say with the Apostle, “But I chastise my body and bring it into subjection, lest perhaps when I have preached to others, I myself should become a cast-away." (1st Epistle to Corinth, chap. ix. 27.) Hence the ancient hermits and anchorets led a life quite opposed to the pleasures and delight of the flesh, in fastings and watchings, lying on the ground in sackcloth and chastisements; and this they did, not so much through hatred to their body, as to the concupiscences of the flesh.
I will mention one example out of many. St. Jerome mentions in the life of St. Hilarian, that when he felt himself tempted by impure thoughts, he thus addressed his body: "I will not let you kick, nor will I feed you with corn, but with chaff; I will tame you by hunger and thirst; I will load you with heavy weights, and accustom you to heat and cold, so that you shall think more of food than of pleasure." Again: in order to exercise the body, physicians prescribe walking, playing at ball, or any other like exercise; so also in order to preserve the health of the soul, we ought, if truly desirous of our salvation, to spend some time every day in meditating on the mysteries of our redemption, or the four last things, or some other pious subjects. And if we cannot of ourselves furnish subjects for meditation, we should spend some time in reading the Holy Scriptures, the Lives of the Saints, or some other good book.
In fine, a powerful remedy against temptations of the flesh and all sins of impurity, is to fly idleness; for no one is more exposed to such temptations, than he who has nothing to do, who spends his time in gazing at people put of the window, or in chatting with his friends, & c. But on the contrary, none are more free from impure temptations, than those who spend the whole day in agricultural labours and in other arts. for our example in this respect, our Saviour chose poor parents, that by His own labour He might procure food for them; and before He began the labours of his mission, He allowed Himself to be called the Son of a carpenter, whom He assisted in his work. It was said of Him, “Is not this the carpenter, the Son of Mary?" I may add, that working men and peasants should be content with their lot, since the wisdom of God chose that state for Himself, His Mother, and His reputed Father; not because they stood in need of such remedies, but that they might admonish us to fly idleness, if we wish to avoid many sins.
Thus ends my presentation of the great work of St. Robert Bellarmine, the Art of Dying Well (Ars bene moriendi). If you wish to review the full text, you can find it here: http://goodcatholicbooks.org/pdf/bellarmine_art-of-dying-well.pdf